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Defendant in the Case Against Osama bin Laden and his Organization Pleads Guilty in New York Federal CourtAired October 20, 2000 - 11:21 a.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Want to take you up to New York city now. There's a new development as a result of the bombing of the U.S. embassies two years ago in eastern Africa.
With us now is Phil Hirschkorn, CNN producer, up in New York, who apparently has just gotten out of court.
Phil, what do you have?
PHIL HIRSCHKORN, CNN PRODUCER: Bill, we have just attended a hearing in Manhattan federal court, where for the first time one of the defendants in the case against Osama bin Laden and his organization has pled guilty. Now the defendant's name is Ali Mohamed. He is a 48-year-old, former Egyptian army officer, who came to the United States, at one time he was a U.S. Army sergeant in fact. And Mohamed has pled guilty, not to the bombings itself, but to the broader conspiracy in which bin Laden and his organization are accused. That is a conspiracy to kill Americans around the world, murder them, to blow up U.S. defense buildings, and to blow up U.S. government buildings, such as the embassies.
Now, the embassies, as you know, were blown up two years ago in August, in Tanzania and Kenya. It killed more than 200 people.
Ali Mohamed is not directly accused of participating in that bombing, three of the other men in custody here are. But Ali Mohamed is one of three men who is accused of being a high-ranking officer in the bin Laden organization.
Ali Mohamed, in fact, trained bin Laden's bodyguards and trained a lot of the military operatives that work for his organization, and in a lengthy confession in court, he described those activities -- Bill.
HEMMER: Phil, was there a plea worked out in this case with this particular man?
HIRSCHKORN: It is a plea bargain. The judge started to read the letter in which the government went over the terms and he let slip that Ali Mohamed would be sentenced to no less than 25 years in prison and then he was interrupted and he was not so specific as to what the plea agreement was. After the hearing, neither the government nor the defense attorney would say whether Ali Mohamed, for instance, had agreed to be a government witness. This trial, scheduled to start in January, against the five other men in custody.
Bin Laden is one of eight fugitives in this case who are still in pursuit -- who still the U.S. government is in pursuit of. And the one interesting thing that came out of the confession was, besides describing his activities, Ali Mohamed said why he and bin Laden had done this and he was very concise, he said the objective of all this was to attack U.S. targets in the Middle East to force Western governments to pull out of the Middle East.
HEMMER: And did he describe, Phil, at all the incentive for the attacks against American targets? What was the motivation there, not just to get Americans to pull out, but did it run deeper than that?
HIRSCHKORN: It does run deeper, bin Laden, himself, a Saudi exile, seems to have been energized by the U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia of troops, which went there during the Gulf War period, and they wanted the troops out of the Middle East region. There wasn't what you might have expected hateful rhetoric about Israel or anything like that. They just wanted the American troops and influence out of the Middle East. And he made reference to the Beirut bombing in 1984, which preceded the U.S. withdrawal from Lebanon. And he said, Ali Mohamed, in court, that this is the same method to force the U.S. to pull out of Saudi Arabia.
HEMMER: Phil, quickly here, are federal prosecutors clarifying this in any way as a big break in the case? One would assume that is a bit of an understatement. But have they classified it?
HIRSCHKORN: As usual, the U.S. attorneys chose not to comment, and they would not see whether Ali Mohamed would testify. You would presume that he would. He faced a maximum of life in prison. And it seems that he would be sentenced to something less than that now.
Ali Mohamed is someone who was in the U.S. Army at one point in Ft. Bragg in the '80s. Someone the government used to help educate American soldiers on Islamic fundamentalism. He speaks and reads English very well. And he might be willing to talk in court. We will have to see in January.
HEMMER: Interesting developments. Indeed we will, Phil Hirschkorn, live from New York, CNN producer there, just out of court with the very latest on that.
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